A wise food reviewer once said, 'Look for the restaurant that is confident enough to sell one dish because if they're keeping themselves afloat, that dish is going to be damn good.'
Another food reviewer said, 'Test how well a popular restaurant chain does dishes other than its specialty because who knows when you may be craving something light and not a steaming bowl of ramen on a Thursday night?'
The latter was me, at Ippudo, Central Park, trying one of its recommended, signature salads and side dishes, instead of...well, basically everything that it is famous for. Did I shoot myself in the foot by doing so?
The premises isn't particularly big so even arriving at almost 8PM, I still had to wait maybe 5 or 10 minutes in line (admittedly, this is still much better than the Pitt St Westfield Ippudo line, which had three layers of queuing even at 8:30PM). As expected, the simple but striking interior decor immediately catches the eye and gives the place a sophisticated, minimalist vibe.
I was seated at the bar area, which was essentially separated from the kitchen by a wall-cupboard of red plates. There was a little laneway right beside my partition where the ramen was being prepared, which was fun to observe through the narrow space.
Service was prompt and efficient - you're given maybe 5min to peruse the (well-designed) menu before a waitress comes to ask politely if you're ready to order. She seemed a bit surprised when I asked for a bit more time but complied readily (my menu-picking indecisiveness aside, I assume not many people need to think much about what they're going to order).
As it's still a very new store, there were a few kinks it still has to iron out, such as their famous buns not being available and the menu, overall, seeming a lot more sparse than it appears online.
Et voila, going against the grain. This seems to be a Central Park exclusive item - an Ippudo specialty chashu and beef croquette. I assume it should be eaten by picking up the paper envelope it came in, but half of the paper was already oily and I didn't want to pick it up. The filling tasted mostly like mince beef, but with a sweetness to it that was probably chashu sauce, and had a milder flavour than I expected. The batter was very breadcrumb-like and well fried. As a dish, it was awkwardly sized for me (a solitary Asian girl) - quite big and expensive for a side (at $8) but not enough as a main. It's quite rich and is something I'd recommend sharing between two.
I know that the Nikumiso Tofu Salad, as a concept, does not sound particularly exciting but the secret ingredient is in the generous helping of Ippudo's special nikumiso sauce, which features a little bit of mince in a miso-based sauce
The sauce was full of salty miso flavour with a slightly unexpected spicy kick and added so much flavour to the dish that the clean, unflavoured taste of tofu and creamy avocado was actually required to cleanse the palate (biggest tip in any Japanese restaurant: if they offer you fresh sesame seeds to grind over your dish, do it). Coupled with sesame (goma) dressing on the leafy portion of the salad, it's almost a little heavy, though very good. Not a bad dish for those who still want to get a flavoursome, filling meal out of a salad while staying (mostly) healthy.
Beyond the dubious achievement of probably being the first person to visit Ippudo and not order the ramen on their first visit, I think I'm going to go back to actually try their ramen next time. Ippudo's a restaurant that doesn't need to say anything to give off the impression that it has much more to offer.